“I will say that what got me through writing the script was Budweiser. A six pack of beer a night, sitting in front of the typewriter, saying ‘What in the hell can I put down? I have no idea. We’re remaking the same film, only not as good.’” – John Carpenter
During the eighties, producer Dino De Laurentiis snapped up sequel rights and produced a handful of stinkers, including Conan the Destroyer (1984), and Amityville II: The Possession (1982), but there was a concerted effort by creators John Carpenter and Debra Hill to try and bring some closure to the Halloween saga; they knew the film was being made purely for cash, but they also seemed to regard the project as an opportunity to introduce a backstory not present in the original theatrical film: Laurie being Michael Myers’ sister.
That hint appeared in an extra scene among four new scenes Carpenter and Hill scripted and shot for the TV version of Halloween: the day after Michael’s escape from the sanitarium, Dr. Loomis is shown the word “sister” written on the cell door.
The filmmakers also decided to start the film right where the first ended, following Laurie (Jamie Lee Curtis, sporting either the worst hair of her career, or the worst glue-on wig in horror), as she’s taken to the local hospital, while Michael still wanders the town in search of his last family member. The problem, as co-writer/producer Debra Hill explains in Anchor Bay’s 25th Anniversary documentary on the first film, is that Laurie is given a tranquilizer, rendering her a woozy, bed-ridden lead character. She’s virtually inert, and we’re stuck watching unmemorable and disposable secondary characters get picked off in the hospital before Laurie wakes up and is eventually confronted by Michael.
Halloween II is held together by a patchwork of scenes, and slasher conventions that one figured Carpenter and Hill would’ve avoided: the victims are stupid and sex-crazed, and the deaths become increasingly silly. In the first film, Michael kills out of rage with a slight curiosity in observing death; in the sequel, his killings are medically themed, which makes no sense: a surgeon is found with a syringe protruding from an eyeball, and a nurse lies dead in an operating room, with a tube pouring blood from her cadaver.
Newcomer Rick Rosenthal, who would direct the 2002 sequel, Halloween: Resurrection, picked to direct the sequel, also makes some daft choices in staging and blocking: cops point out clues to each other using a flashlight in a brightly lit room, and a nurse moves screen right to make sure Laurie, who’s tall, skinny and wearing a white slip, isn’t hiding under a small sink in an illuminated corner. Some of the shocks are well handled, but even from the performances, one gets a sense the actors felt trapped in scenes where they had little to do or say beyond looking very afraid.
Even though he didn’t direct the film, Carpenter’s script does seem to riff a few contemporary and classic films: a nurse is dunked in a scalding hot tub much in the way the gloved killer scalds a victim in Dario Argento’s Profondo Rosso / Deep Red; the syringe-in-the-eye shot has a Fulcian quality; and the finale where Michael emerges from a conflagration on fire recalls a similar scene in Howard Hawks’ Thing from Another World, a film a boy and babysitter Laurie watch on TV in Halloween, and a film Carpenter would remake in 1982.
Halloween II also alters Michael from a man to a mystical thing. He’s billed as The Shape in the end credits, and he scrawls the word Samhaim on a school blackboard, which Dr. Loomis explains is tied to Druidic mythology – an element that was later explored in Halloween 6: The Curse of Michael Myers.
One surprising piece of continuity, though, is Ben Tramer, the boy Laurie likes in high school, and briefly pops up in a case of lethal mistaken identity. (Weirdly, there’s no regret or upset caused by the error, once again revealing how the script was never in a refined state.)
The DVD from Goodtimes offers a pretty decent anamophic transfer of the theatrical cut; there’s some compression, but it’s not distracting. The Dolby 2.0 Surround mix is really punchy, with booming music cues and directional effects adding some extra oomph. By 1981, Carpenter and Alan Howarth’s score collaborations had advanced into more tone-saturated synth scores, clever rhythmic hooks, and more elaborate themes (Escape from New York offering the best of each), so while Halloween II’s music sticks with the same 2 themes from the first film, the recording is much richer.
Universal and De Laurentiis clearly threw serious money into the production, and it’s a nice, glossy film, but the script just doesn’t deliver enough satisfying scares and character bits. There are also reportedly alternate edits of the film (mostly for TV airings) than included deleted scenes and alternate footage, including an ending where more characters survive the night’s carnage. The extra scenes give more screen time to minor characters, like the surgeon with the syringe in the eye, and love interest Jimmy Lloyd (The Last Starfighter’s Lance Guest).
(If so much additional footage exists, one has to presume the script was written under tight time constraints, and with an eye on a TV airing, extra material was shot to ensure the sequel could easily be edited for TV and international markets. As it stands, though, the first 7 mins. of Halloween II is flashback footage plus Main Titles, and the last 3 mins. is the End Credits, leaving 82 mins. of meandering nonsense.)
Indie companies with an eye on fans know new footage and assembling ‘complete’ packages are what fans and collectors want. Large studios, including Universal and MGM, tend to upgrade high-profile and/or Oscar-winning films on DVD with ersatz director cuts, but the lowly horror films they carry are generally left alone as banal bare bones releases.
It’s fair to presume the only reason Universal’s Legend (1983) exists as a multi-disc set is because director Ridley Scott wanted to tinker and refine the film. Given the low regard the studio has for the Halloween franchise, it’s highly unlikely there’ll be a special edition of Halloween II anytime soon.
Films in the Halloween franchise include Halloween (1978), Halloween II (1981), Halloween III: Season of the Witch (1982), Halloween IV: The Return of Michael Myers (1988), Halloween V (1989), Halloween VI: The Curse of Michael Myers (1995), the seventh part, Halloween H20: Twenty Years Later (1998), the eighth part, Halloween: Resurrection (2002), and Rob Zombie’s Halloween (2007).
© 2008 Mark R. Hasan